Critics of a proposal to ban legally carried weapons from Arlington government facilities and during special events in the community offered their protests, but most were of the belief that the fix, as it were, was in.
“I’ve lived in Arlington long enough to know that this train has left the station,” county resident Jared Hendler said at a July 22 County Board meeting in advance of planned gun-restriction legislation being acted on in September.
The measure being proposed was merely up for advertisement, but opponents wanted to get their objections on the record early.
“This is a joke worthy of a Franz Kafka novel,” said county resident Jered Dominey, suggesting that the county government was virtue-signaling at the possible expense of resident safety.
Dominey called the proposal “the exact kind of divisive, opportunistic partisanship we do not need.”
The measure, similar to one already enacted in Alexandria, uses new powers granted localities in the 2020 General Assembly session to restrict firearm possession in government buildings and other facilities, such as parks. Prior to July 1, Virginia localities had been prohibited by the state government from enacting such rules.
Among those turning out (“virtually”) to criticize the measure was local resident William Barratt, who declared it “a bad idea that would make Arlingtonians less safe” because it gave criminals the upper hand.
“If you ask police whether citizens lawfully carrying firearms are currently a public-safety risk, the answer would be a resounding ‘no,’” Barratt said. The proposed ordinance “would ask them to start needlessly confronting anyone who is suspected of carrying a gun on county property.”
As currently drafted, the measure would impact both those carrying weapons openly – legal in most areas across Virginia – as well as those who have government-issued concealed-carry permits.
Several critics hit on a section within the draft legislation that would outlaw gun possession at events that received county-government permits to operate – such as a street festival – in addition to property owned by the county government.
“You’re sending a message to criminals that there are easy targets in these places,” said Brian Lafferty. “You are putting us at the mercy of criminals.”
Under the proposal, anyone found guilty of violating the ordinance would be subject to a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine or both.
County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said the end goal was not to send gun owners to jail.
“Staff will be informing people who have guns in places in which they shouldn’t that they need to leave the property and have to secure the weapon someplace else and then return,” MacIsaac said. “If the person refuses, the police would become involved, and even then police have discretion to determine whether or not a citation should be issued or an arrest made.”
MacIsaac acknowledged that the draft proposal is “effectively a complete ban” on guns in areas under county-government jurisdiction, but said that could be amended before adoption.
“The board could land between the two extremes,” he said.
In the end – to the surprise of probably no one – board members voted 5-0 to advance the proposal. But several of them suggested there could be some alteration before the next time the matter is addressed.
“I have a whole host of questions I would like to work on between now and September,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, the lone attorney on the five-member panel.
His colleague, Katie Cristol, suggested that the word “knowingly” should be inserted into the ordinance’s language, to give the public an added layer of protection for an inadvertent breaking of the rules.
“It’s certainly not my intent to capture anybody in a trap,” said Cristol.
County Manager Mark Schwartz said that, before the September vote, he would come back with a set of administrative regulations that, while they wouldn’t be incorporated into the county ordinance specifically, would be used to guide interaction between county personnel and the public.
“We’re looking for compliance, not punishment,” he said.
Another public hearing must be held before the expected County Board vote on the measure in September.
While Arlington and other liberal-leaning localities across Virginia are looking at enacting new regulations based on the powers given to them by the new Democratic majority in Richmond, several local governments in more Republican-leaning communities of the commonwealth have approved measures affirming the right of the public to carry weapons on government property within their jurisdictions.
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